Saturday, June 30, 2007

Happy Birthday to Mokuren!

Mokuren Dojo (the blog) is one year old today! No longer an infant, but a massive toddler! I started this blog out as a sort of a training diary for myself and some of my students and nearly 400 posts later it has grown into something much more!
Check out the graph above. I started tracking these stats about 6 months ago and about 4 months ago I had a glitch that made me have to start over with the tracking - but the graph still shows the gist of the idea.
Thanks to all you great readers who keep coming and keep checking out my ideas and leaving me comments to let me know where I'm right on and where I might be getting off track. I love the comments - Keep on coming, keep on reading, and keep the comments coming!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Two kotegaeshi exercises

Kotegaeshi is an entire group of techniques - not just a few common forms, as seen in the video I previously posted. Kotegaeshi is really most anything in which uke is curling his arm and tori is following. This can lead to throwing it by crushing into uke or moving away. Tori can catch it with otoshi or guruma timing. Virtually any floaing throw with uke's arm in a curling action can be called kotegaeshi.
This is not just a point of terminology. My point is that there are a lot of kotegaeshi forms between and beyond the few common forms practiced, and if our goal is to harmonize with uke in an aiki-like fashion then we have to be able to flow and execute the kotegaeshi that the uke-tori relationship calls for.
Here are a couple of kotegaeshi exercises that will improve your sensitivity to the kotegaeshi relationship:
  • Face uke and take his right hand in a kotegaeshi grip with tori's left hand. uke relaxes and tori takes all the slack out of the arm without cranking it. Move uke's arm right up to the end of the range of motion of the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints - but don't press it further. No pain. Now, here's the trick: Tori makes an unbendable left arm that still floats at the shoulder. Wherever uke moves, tori's left shoulder will float but there is still a one-sided restriction on uke's wrist, elbow, and shoulder and there is a motion restriction because of the unbendable arm. Ok so far. Here's where this gets cool: tori, take your right arm and palm-bump uke on the chest or shoulder or face or wherever. Doesn't have to hurt - just make uke vibrate or oscillate a little. As uke moves around to accomodate to the bump, float the left arm with them and take up the slack (still not cranking). See can you get uke to sit down and look confused because he doesn't really know why he couldn't stand up.
  • Second exercise: face uke and take his right hand in kotegaeshi with tori's left hand as above. Take up the slack as before. Uke and tori begin stepping back and forth in synch (uke's right leg, tori's left) while the other feet remain planted. Watch for the time that uke sets the moving foot down in front and tori, stretch your step. Make uke think you're going to step down with him but float your left foot farther in time and space after his foot lands. You can stretch by stepping closer to uke's center, down the line of his feet, or by retreating away from uke's center. Watch to see if you can get uke to pop up onto his toes.
I'll have to try to get some video of these two exercises to post here, but if you try to work through the text descriptions above you can probably play around and get them pretty close to right. These two exercises - taking up the slack with a floating unbendable arm, and stretching the step after uke plants the moving foot - will make a world of difference in your sensitivity to which kotegaeshi uke is trying to fall for.

Silver Award

Hey, check this out! I just found out today that Mokuren Dojo has won the World Wide Web Awards Silver award for, "clean and organized design, user friendliness, quality content and informative information for visitors." I'll display it in the sidebar for y'all to admire.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Measuring punching force

You've gotta love this video, whether it's for the gratuitous use of cool hi-tech equipment and imaging, or whether youre trying to learn to hit harder or defend against tough guys. Check it out...

The most interesting part is not that the boxer hits hardest, but how clean and effortless his form is compared to the others. The other guys make this look hard, which means that they are taking a lot of recoil from the target. The boxer appears effortless but look how much oomph he puts on that poor dummy!
Also particularly interesting is the cool graphic explanation of coup-contrecoup injury.

Class cancellation

We won't be having class the remainder of this week - not because I knocked my head, but because it's the last week of my vacation and our wedding anniversary is this weekend, so I have a hot date with my wife - a hot, out-of-town date! My wife sure does a great job of putting up with practices four times per week, constant aiki obsession, and all my other quirks!
Y'all get ready to pick back up where we left off next Tuesday and make some progress. I have some ideas festering in my mind about where to go to make some good progress...


A vital skill that is perhaps sometimes overlooked in some martial arts syllabi is First Aid. I recommend that everyone participating in martial arts classes obtain and maintain a First Aid and CPR certification equivalent to either American Heart Association or Red Cross standards. At the very minimum, these certifications should be prerequisite to black belt rank or teaching functions in a club.

Today I creased my skull working on putting up some vertical blinds for my wife. Classical concussion symptoms - that is, head trauma followed by change in mental status. In my case I was mildly confused and disoriented for a couple of hours after the six-foot long 1x6 board fell onto my head. I seem to have gotten over it - rested for a while, took a bath and washed the blood out of my hair, and HEY, the blinds look fabulous!

But seriously, concussion is a good thing to be able to recognize, because if it is severe (vomiting, amnesia, drowsiness, staggering, or crazy speech) you should seek medical attention. Repeated concussions, even mild ones, have been known to cause impairment disproportional to the apparent severity of the trauma. Children are particularly succeptible to sudden death from second or third concussions.
So, get some training, know when to seek medical attention, and know when to discontinue practice and get medical clearance to resume.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Kotegaeshi, kotemawashi, and wakigatame

As rat mentioned in his comment to the previous post, kotegaeshi seems to occur much more often in randori than does kote mawashi (nikkyo). Tomiki noticed the same thing as he was putting his fundamentals kata together. He originally thought there would be roughly fifteen techniques (including kotemawashi and kotegaeshi), but through a period of randori it must have occurred to him that people just don't put themselves into mawashi-type situations as much as they go for gaeshi-type positions. He didn't discard mawashi, but his next version of that same fundamentals kata included seventeen techniques and did include kotegaeshi but not mawashi. We have found through the years that kotegaeshi and wakigatame (gokyo) are probably the two most commonly occurring locking techniques in randori. Resistant ukes seem to always be pushing into wakigatame or snatching their arms back into gaeshi. because these two techniques transition into each other so much, we work a good bit on flowing between them in chain #3.
Stay tuned for some discussion about the nature and use of locking techniques in general and kotegaeshi in particular.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


This guy has many well done demonstrations of aikido techniques on his website, including this video of kotegaeshi thrown as a response to several various attacks. Kotegaeshi is one of a handful of techniques that people hit my blog looking for more info on. This particular technique seems to be one of only two or three that folks really associate with aikido.
Since it's what everyone wants to know more about, I figure to write about kotegaeshi for a few posts, but for right now, enjoy the video and check back here for more in the next few days.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Yeah! What they said!

For the past couple of days the Formosa Neijia dude has posted some interesting videos (see below) with some cool movement in them. He took a fair amount of grief from a couple of his commentators about the martial applicability of the motion in the videos. Well, I just wanted to jump in and say I think I see where Formosa dude is coming from in is discussion of the value of freeplay in martial arts. In fact, I posted a similar pair of posts a while back (see below) about contact improvisation and silk reeling. I think he's saying what I was fumbling around with in April. Dojo rat has also posted a couple of really interesting videos on some unusual but still valid and potentially valuable motion exercises.
If you're interested in motion for its own sake as well as martial applications of motion, I recommend this series of articles. I'd like to hear any comments from anyone who can put these various ideas together into a cohesive thing in their mind.

Judo stories for the Rat

Dojo Rat asked me to expand some on my previous post about the matches between the Judo and jujitsu guys early on in the history of Judo. To avoid retelling the whole thing I've looked up a few good articles for you.

Basically, the koryu (pre-Meiji restoration) jujitsu guys had kata as nearly their sole training method (See this article by Tomiki). You did kata then you went out and fought death matches or went to war as the only real test of your skills. Well, Kano comes along and collects the techniques of several jujitsu schools together and organizes them based on this idea of maximally efficient use of power into what he calls Judo. He also develops and implements a randori system, so his players simply get a lot more practice at testing the viability of their techniques than do the kata-only guys.

So, the eclectic Kano iritates a bunch of the older jujitsu teachers because of these changes that he's making, and the Metro police sponsor a tournament between the Kodokan and the old jujitsu guys. The Kodokan guys win all of the matches except one, establishing a batch of several new Kodokan demigods. Bear in mind that these were not the friendly little tourneys we're used to. These guys said goodbye to their relatives before they competed. These were death matches. The one Kodokan guy that failed to win his match stalemated the jujitsu guy for over an hour and still felt like a failure.
Well, in my opinion the take home lesson of this tournament is the point I made in the previous post. You have to have a randori system and you have to practice in that mode a lot.

Determinism in martial arts

One kind of nutty idea in some martial artists' minds is determinism. That is, the idea that, "Bad guy does A and I respond B which causes him to do C, to which I respond with D, forcing him to fall like so..." This idea of cause and effect is tenuous at best. Actions don't cause other actions, though they do influence them. James Ebert quotes Vietnam war army lieutenant James McDonough:
We would learn how little our decisions determined our futures. Rational decision making or technical and physical skills may save you once or twice. But a man in combat is exposed a thousand times. A gust of wind blows at the right moment to take a mortar round ten yards farther to explode. A tree grows fifty years only to absorb a grenade fragment that would have otherwise entered your heart. A blade of grass or bent branch deflects a speeding bullet enough to send it harmlessly through your flopping shirt - or savagely through your brain or liver. (from A Life in a Year)
I don't intend this to suggest fatalism. It is wiser to stand behind the 50 year old tree than beside it when people are shooting at you. You can improve your chances intelligently, but you can't determine your own future absolutely. You must build your martial system around probabilities and tendencies, not pre-determined cause-and-effect events. So, how do we figure out the probabilities of a given thing happening or the likelihood of a technique working a certain way?
Randori - and lots of it. A system without randori (or sparring or push-hands or freeplay of some sort) is simply not a martial art. randori - and lots of it. That's why Kano's Kodokan judo excelled over the koryu jujitsu players they went up against. That's why the Gracies excelled in the 1970's and 80's in Brazil.
Randori - and lots of it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Aikido with my son

Tonight was just Whit and myself, so we warmed up counting 1-Jigoro-Kano, 2-Kenji-Tomiki, etc... up to 8-counts. We did ukemi, including forward kneeling rolls and forward standing kindergarden rolls. Wrist releases #1 and #2 with #2 chained into #1. The performance goal for #2 was "walk backwards around me until you turn me around, then do #1. Worked great. We played these releases seeing how fast Whit could get behind me when I grabbed him. This was a neat exercise and Whit figured out pretty rapidly how to control his momentum so that he could run behind me without slinging away. We did suwari kokyudosa (kneeling knockdown) throwing each other onto laser beams. Then we repped #6 from nijusan, oshitaoshi (shomenate ikkyo omote).

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fish belly white

This morning, since I'm on vacation from work, I spent a couple of hours working on my base tan. HA! I put the white in whiteboy! I'm sunburnt already, after my first swim of the summer. Seems like I'd have learnt my lesson sometime in the last 38 years.
Anyway, it sure made wearing my judogi (or, oven mitt, as Andy calls it) unpleasant. Today Cody came to aikido and we worked on fundamentals. Ukemi, tegatana (footwork), evasions, wrist releases, and finished up with shomenate and aigamaeate. Good sweaty class. Crikey, my skin burns!

A sensei is...

Different people expect different things from a sensei/sifu/master. Great teachers come in many different forms. What do you most want your martial arts teacher to be like? Y'all tell me...

Return to judo

Last night Cody returned to judo after being out for a while. We warmed up and spent some time making sure that his ukemi was still functional. He must've had a good instructor because those skills are still there! We reviewed the groundwork cycle and the happo no kuzushi then moved into kosotogari, deashibarai, and a deashi-kosoto combination that works wonders in randori and shiai.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Weighing in on weight classes

Judo was conceived and the rules were first systematized in the late 1880's in Japan, a newly-industrializing agrarian society with a great degree of homogeneity in the population. As such, there was, as I understand it, no concept of weight classes. Everybody in the early Kodokan fought anybody/everybody else they could learn from. This potential variability in opponent size seems almost certainly responsible for the development of the judo ethic of Maximum Efficiency with Minimal Effort. Kano, in his lectures, even used the example of a man with '4 units' of strength opposed by a man with '10 units of strength.'
So, I've heard various people express their opinion that the introduction of weight classes in judo competition is greatly responsible for the perceived decline of judo from a technical height in the 1950's. In a recent poll here on Mokuren Dojo, with n=8 voting (shame on y'all! I'm sure that more than 8 people have opinions on this...), 25% described weight classes as a "just plain bad" idea. Certainly, as an ideal, one would like to refine one's judo to the point that size is simply not a factor. One strives toward that perfection of technique in which an opponent of any size is manageable. But as a martial sport, particularly in national and Olympic arenas, weight classes were eventually deemed a necessity. Beginning in the 1950's, people began implementing weight classes:

The first weight category system in Judo was developed by the Northern California Judo Technical Committee under the guidance of Henry Stone (1948). We established four weight divisions (130, 150, 180 and Unlimited). To preserve the "little man versus the big man" theory, the Grand Championships were established where the weight system was eliminated and the skills of true judo can further exemplify the principle of "Maximum Efficiency with Minimum of Effort", Dr. Kano's established "All Pervading Principle of Judo."

The weight category system and the tournament rules were patterned from our Olympic Wrestling Tournament Scoring System. All this unfolded from an old copy of the first competitive judo rules and weight system developed by R. H. "Pop" Moore Sr. at the request of Dr. Jigoro Kano during the Xth Olympic Games at Los Angeles in 1932. "Pop" was Japan’s first Olympic Wrestling Team coach. Dr. Kano envisioned the need for a weight system that far back, particularly, he was impressed with the conduct of the Olympic Wrestling Competitions, (scoring, rules, and weight categories, etc.). Incidentally, Hatta and Kotani were members of Japan’s Olympic Wrestling Team at that time.

After further experience was acquired in the use of the weight category system, it was revised to its present categories, (139, 154, 176, 205, and Unlimited). Geesink's prowess was not solely responsible for weight categories coming about but no doubt he greatly amplified this need which was already begun in the early days. His consistency in defeating top Japanese judoists in competitions in Japan and the World Tournaments certainly helped and opened up further thinking of individuals who were yet reluctant to accept weight divisions.
(from a Letter from Emilio Bruno to Don Sayenga June 20, 1972 )
The 2006 AAU Rule book describes it in terms of competitor safety:
Contrary to "popular myth", size is as important to judo as it is to other sports such as football, basketball, boxing or wrestling. Although a highly skilled small person has been known to defeat a larger less skilled opponent, the usual result historically has been cracked ribs and other assorted injuries to the smaller contestant. Since judo is a size factor sport, weight divisions should be established to minimize weight becoming the prime determinant of the winner. The days of Open divisions (all weights together) should be a thing of the past. Local and regional events may establish their own adult weight divisions, but to maximize safety and fairness. WEIGHT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN INDIVIDUAL COMPETITORS IN ANY DIVISION SHOULD SELDOM EXCEED 10 PERCENT.
There are even weight classes in Sumo now, though 'lightweight' is 187lb and below!
In my opinion, (and I am very much a non-competitive, 'maximum efficiency' type guy) I think the idea of weight classes has not gone far enough. The basic idea behind the weight classes was to control for variables so that skill and not sheer strength was the main determinant of the match. Here's you a thing to think about: How is it a controlled competitive environment when a yellow belt novice can compete in a tourney against a rokudan - so long as they are the same weight? How is that a fair test of skill? Now, admittedly, by the time you get to nationals, internationals, or Olympics, everyone is black belt, but in the grassroots of the system there is an immense inherent unfairness. I'd like to see competitions control for both weight and time in grade.
But then, again, I can also see the point of view of the technical purists. One must, of course practice and randori against everyone, striving always for that pure ideal of maximum efficient use of power, but weight classes for the more dangerous, uncontrolled shiai are definitely a good idea.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Aikido & Judo in Southwest Mississippi

At Mokuren Dojo in Magnolia Mississippi, we study the Japanese martial arts of Aikido and Judo. If you think you might be interested in playing with us, there are three easy steps.
  • First: get some information about aikido and judo and see if they seem like something you might be interested in. Good beginning sources include the Wikipedia articles on aikido and judo, as well as the judoinfo site and the aikido FAQ.
  • Second: contact me and come watch a class or two. We're friendly and laid-back, and we love to stop and answer your questions about what we are doing.
  • Third: Come play. You don't have to get a judo uniform until you decide you want to keep playing with us. Our overhead expense is minimal, so our dues are small and there are no contracts or hidden fees. As you advance in rank there will be association dues and rank fees, but those are also reasonable and are spread out over the course of months and years.
There. Easy as 1-2-3. If you think you might be interested in aikido or judo in Southwest Mississippi, drop me a line...

Eat your heart out, Northstar!

Can you beat this with your African Bagua?!?!?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Filling in the edges

Today's was the last class of this ABG. We worked on kotetaoshi and maeotoshi from nijusan and the first two releases from yonkata. We played with kotetaoshi retreating down a line similar to hikitaoshi as a setup for maeotoshi. On yonkata #1 and #2, we worked on making the tori's motions as similar as possible to hanasu releases #1 and #3 - just on the inside of the arm. We also worked on these two releases at the previous ABG, but we had previously de-emphasized the down-up component of this diagonal spiral. Today we worked on the connection of this release motion (hanasu #1,3, yonkata 1,2) to the first turn in tegatana, including the vertical component. Works very nice.


Yesterday's afternoon class was a hodgepodge you-call-it class. Related to aikido we worked on Nijusan #6, 7, 10, 11, and 12. Take away points:
  • on oshitaoshi, fade around the end instead of doing tension-compression. feels slmost like tekubiosae (yonkyo) instead of oshitaoshi, but with a strong sense of releasing.
  • on udegaeshi, fade around the end in order to take their radial stylus (wrist knuckle) down the line away from them. Again, releasing feeling.
  • on wakigatame, enter as in shomenate, push the arm, pull the arm, push the arm. Great feeling of releasing instead of doing. On the goshinjitsu wakigatame, collide with uke and seek the line down which the two bodies want to fall. then get behind the arm on that line.
  • on udehineri, walk the ulnar styloid (the other wrist bone) up and in front of uke so that your two hands are not counter-pushing against each other.
  • on kotegaeshi, hold the lock to take the slack out, and just after footfall, enter, stretch down the line, or separate. Also, otoshi can become guruma easily if you stretch the step by separating centers.
In judo, we worked on various things, including nagenokata kataguruma, seoinage, sasae tsurikomiashi, and tsurikomi goshi. Various hints. We worked on making seoinage a true hand throw, like the kodokan book says it is. We also worked on various little adjustments to nagenokata that imprve tori's time efficiency in stepping, like pulling in on sasae tsurikomi ashi.
Needless to say, after this three-hour hodgepodge we were all knackered.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Randori day at the ABG

Today, was really a randori day. We started out with a nice, long hand randori session with various partners. It was much better than yesterday. Smooth, flowing, controlled randori. Then we worked on two things that help with randori - rolling the ball as a way out of strength situations, and kokyunage, the aiki brushoff. We worked on several forms of kokyunage, including shomenate, chudan aigamae, sankata ushiroate, gokata kokyunage, and owaza kataotoshi. We also played with hanasu #1-4 in a brushoff mode where tori releases, breaks uke's grip, and brushes off.
From here, we moved into multiple person randori to test our aiki brushoff and rolling the ball. The partners were given instructions to attack one at a time but in rapid succession and tori's goal was to evade and disengage repeatedly, completely refusing to engage with any uke. Additionally, ukes were told that they could attack simultaneously if they caught tori engaging with any one uke or trying for a technique. It was great, lots of fun, and educational. Everybody knows that you don't go to the ground with multiple opponents, but in this form of randori you can really see that it's the act of tori engaging uke (even if it stays standing) that is super-dangerous for tori. Hopefully we'll have some video of this randori that we can upload soon.
As another form of randori, we played knife randori with uke told to cut twice no matter what tori does. The first attack had to be a ballistic attack from outside ma-ai but the second attack could be stab, slash, high, low, anything. Turns out that the first attack is easy to evade, but if you engage with uke instead of brushing off then the second attack almost always cuts. Shomenate and aigamaeate are still the most viable techniques I found (other than the brush-off). If you can get tori moving backward away from you (e.g. shomenate) then his second knife attack has less potential.
This was a great, high-energy, sweaty aiki practice. Take away points:
  • Aikido is about avoiding force, disengaging safely, refusing to engage - the aiki brushoff
  • Rolling the ball is a great way to disengage from a strength-vs-strength grappling situation. Roll uke about 1/4 turn then brushoff.
  • Aiki brushoff is the crucial skill in multiple opponents randori, followed by short, low-commitment atemi, like shomenate and aigamaeate.
  • Two-stab knife randori is a great form of knife evasion that really emphasizes the importance of aiki brushoff and atemiwaza.

The Second Annual, Best Ever ABG

Well, yesterday and today we've had our second Aiki Buddies Gathering at Magnolia. Yesterday we worked on the first six techniques of nijusan, demonstrating that the longer, more flowing nijusan versions of these techniques contain the shorter, more direct junana versions just like the ura concept contains the omote concept but not vice versa. Additionally, we saw that in each of the techniques 2-6, not only do they all contain the shorter within the longer, but the all contain #6 (oshitaoshi or omote ikkyo). You might even be able to say that each of the techniques contains all the other techniques. Take away points for this class:
  • The long, flowing, circular forms(ura) in nijusan contain the more abrupt forms (omote)from junana. Sometimes, though it doesn't hurt to practice the more direct junana versions so that you can recognize them within the nijusan.
  • A good attack from uke includes one committed, balistic motion from outside ma-ai to within touching distance, followed by a recovery and an attempt by uke to center on uke and get his hands up between uke and tori.
  • Throw uke's near hand behind your head and block the far bicep in gedanate
  • Hand randori sucked today - grip, grunt, and groan. Ground randori was better.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tsunako Miyake

I've mentioned before a couple of times that Tsunako Miyake, one of Tomiki's earliest students, made a tour of the U.S. in 1997 to teach Goshin Jitsu. She was in her early 70's at that time, and was an amazing, vigorous teacher. I actually saw her do handstands and falling leaves ukemi during those 1997 seminars.

Well, now she's in her 80's and she's back! Starting this weekend, she'll be in Houston for a couple of weeks worth of invitational seminars, again on Goshin Jitsu. I sure wish I could be there, but I'm broker than the 10 commandments right now, so no Houston trip for me this summer. I'm jealous of all you guys that get to see her this time.
I have my own lovely picture of Ms. Miyake that my student, Jamie, snapped when she was here last time, but I don't have it scanned into a format that I could use here, so I lifted this pic from the Windsong Dojo site. Hope y'all don't mind.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Two good sessions

Yesterday, Chops & I had a good randori session working upward in intensity from happo no kuzushi through light standing randori into more vigorous groundwork. Chops has obviously been taught by Rich the Octopus because he gave me a good run for my money. After we pretty much wore each other out, we repped ushiro udegarame (A.K.A. Kimura) from the guard.
Today Kel & I worked on ukemi, particularly rolling into a standing position in the knee-saving manner that we teach as opposed to the knee-wrecking method some folks teach. Then we did tegatana a couple of times, hanasu #1-4 for a while, and shomenate and aigamaeate for the rest of the time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Haiku Contest

Here's my entry for the Martial Arts Haiku Contest. It's titled Generations. Here is the bio of Jigoro Kano from which the quote was taken.

Kano once said that
What one good man can learn well
He'll teach a hundred...

Weight classes

What do you think about weight classes in judo competition? Y'all tell me...

Nine of Forty

Here is a really exciting video of some judo ippons, etc. If you watch you'll see that virtually every throw that is thrown is one of the Divine Nine that I've been talking about lately, or a minimal variant of one of the Divine Nine. This really boils down to the 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, basically restated as, "80% of successful throws will come from 20% of the possible throws." So, with a throwing syllabus of a few more than 40 throws, 20% would come out to about nine throws. The Divine Nine.

There is one major exception to the rule of thumb that pretty much all throws that you ever see are from the Divine Nine. Uchimata is the most successful throw that is thrown in judo competitions. So, why didn't I include uchimata in the 'Divine Nine' list of judo kihon? It's not kihon because: 1) It's a variant of ukigoshi, 2) it is harder to learn than anything in the Divine Nine, and 3) it is harder to fall from than anything in the Divine Nine.

This brings up a pretty important point when you begin trying to define a small set of kihon for judo. You can't reduce the whole system to these nine throws. Not only do other throws, like uchimata, comprise a significant portion of the opportunities for throws, but sometimes it is specifically the threat of some of these other throws that make the Divine Nine so easy to throw. If you have to watch to make sure the opponent doesn't get you with 40 possible throws, you tend to leave about 9 holes in your defense. When you try to plug some of these nine holes, like stiffarming to stay out of osotogari, you make bigger holes for other throws.

So, while the Divine Nine are representative of all of judo, and as such are worth some practice time during every class, they are not ALL there is to judo as a system.

Are you sure?

Boxers, do you think you could hit these guys enough?
Any TKD folks out there want to kick them?
Aikidoka, how long could you evade them?
Karateka, how about a one-punch kill?
Judoka, could you throw an an ippon?
BJJ guys, think you could tap them?
Bagua? Savate?
When it comes down to it, would you even be sure if you had a knife?

Maybe? Maybe not. It's worth thinking about.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Wish list

You know what I'd like to have? A second sidebar on the other side of this blog, so that there is a left sidebar and a right sidebar. That would be handy. Does anyone know how these Blogger template thingies work? How much work would that be?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Whit starting chain #1

Ok, Dojo Rat, you've been wanting to see some of our chains (flow drills). Here's the first piece of the first one (Chain #1). This is one of about ten starting places in our chains, and we use this motion relationship as a hook to connect chains of related techniques to. It's not the most exciting martial stuff you'll ever see, but having done some aikido, I'm sure you can see the potential and the direction we're going with this thing. To me, it looks similar to what I think I'm seeing in taichi push hands. There are also motions in the Bagua circle thingie that you and others have posted that crop up in our chains. more on that later...

That's my 6 year old, Whit doing the release.

Things to watch for:

  • tori evading off uke's centerline

  • tori turning to face uke with hands up

  • tori taking up a position in uke's dead angle (shikaku) behind the arm

  • pretty good unbendable arms for a 6 year old

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pre-UFC Gracie Jiujitsu

Robust and precise

I've proudly borrowed this photo of aigamaeate from the British Aikido Association as an example of what I'm talking about in this post.
Today's class included Chops and myself and we worked through most of the syllabus looking at some of the things that seem to differentiate my class from Usher-san's.

Usher is a kata man from a Shotokan background and is very good at the kata. I have often wished that my students and I had the precision that Usher has in his kata. But then, I see kata as a different kind of thing than Usher-san does.

I feel that the precision in kata should be secondary to robustness. If your idea of the ideal of kata is something like, "step 45 degrees inside, push just so, turn 30 degrees, etc..." then your kata has the potential for precision but lacks the potential for being robust. That robust response is something that must be developed in randori. On the other hand, if you define kata as something like, "step out of the way, get your hands up, turn to face him, get behind his arm, follow him..." then your kata has potential to be robust in that it will work for a wider range of attacks, but sometimes it seems that this sort of kata lacks the potential for precision.

So, what role does precision play in a kata concept like mine? In what sense can you strive for precision and still maintain robust response? One of the reasons that you want to do kata the same way every time is because, even if that way turns out to be wrong, it is easier to fix a consistent mistake than a random error. If you do something different every time then you have a hard time isolating the variable to work on correcting.

As an example, let's take #2 - aigamaeate. I was tori and Chops was uke but because we're from different schools we went into the attack expecting uke to do different things. Chops, being an accomodating uke, was giving me a reaction that would have made a beautiful aigamaeate if I were doing the precise kata version Chops was accustomed to. I missed that reaction completely and didn't get the aigamae he was expecting, but because I was doing a robust form of aigamae, I cycled around him a step and then launched him away from me. Chops says it was the longest fall he's ever taken (though I didn't really see a satisfactory amount of air under him :-). That was sorta a round-about way of saying that my kata has precision too. I'm doing the same, robust form of aigamae every time, but the form of the thing takes into account more potential variability from uke.

You have to find a way to make your kata both robust and precise.

At the end of class, Chops asked for a "Cool Ninja Technique of the Day" from Owaza, so we ran through the last five techniques as a preview for him. Neat exercise, Owaza is.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The boys are back in town

Tonight's class included Whit, Knox, and myself. We're about ready to re-start the kid's judo since teeball and 6-7 yo baseball is finished for the season, and We wanted to get Whit a head start so he could be a good example to the new heads on how stuff works in judo class.
We warmed up with some ROM and then ran laterals, diagonals, and circles in tsugiashi. We worked on rolling, doing the kneeling forward rolls and the standing kindergarden rolls where you put your hands and head on the ground between your feet and roll straight down the spine back to standing. Whit did pretty good on the kneeling roll, Knox didn't get it. They both did great on the kindergarden roll.
Then we played kneeling knockdown, using two lapels grip, arm and lapel, and arm and head hug. At the end we worked on kesagatame with me helping them get into position and the uke struggling out of the hold. Whit spontaneoudly invented the bridge&roll escape and Knox spontaneously invented the uphill escape. It was pretty cool.

Here are a couple of cool old vids of kids Whit's and Knox's age doing judo. Groovy 1960's music too...

New class times

Notice the new class times above. All evening classes have been moved from 6:00 to 6:30. This will give Hattiesburgers and Baton Rougians a little extra time to get here after work and it will give us a little cooler dojo during the sweltering part of the summer. Y'all come play!

What is kuzushi anyway?

Greg Henry (The Aiki Struggler) made the interesting comment on a recent post regarding kuzushi (unbalancing):

...I think that we need to have a better definition of ... kuzushi. Right now it seems like you're saying any type of unbalanced state is kuzushi. ... That seems a bit broad to me. Instead I suggest we use the term to mean a state from which you must take an unnatural movement to prevent falling down...

I've heard some instructors define kuzushi as "any time uke has to make an unintended step." The idea being, virtually everyone on the planet takes one step at the same speed, so if uke has to take one extra step, then tori gets what amounts to a "free move." It is as if uke is standing still like in the classic happo no kuzushi drill because he has to take that unintended step before he can go back to fighting against tori.
An instructor also told us a story in which he asked one of his Japanese instructors, "Show me an offbalance." The instructor replied, "You see that man walking there? Chance, chance, chance, chance...," implying that uke is offbalance on every step.
Greg continues:
...That being said, you must do something, even if its getting out of the way to put someone [in] kuzushi unless they're doing some sort of insane off the top rope type of attack. All types of kuzushi occur pretty much by tori doing something, even though that something is often just relaxing.
I like to tie the facets of kuzushi together in my mind sorta like this: Uke is always offbalance when he is moving (unless tori is holding uke up), but tori is not always able to use that perpetual offbalance to his benefit, so tori must occasionally adjust uke's offbalance so that uke is off balance in some specific way at some specific time so that tori is able to use that offbalance. 
That is a pretty minimal offbalance system that still provides sufficient kuzushi to apply anything in the Kodokan and Tomiki syllabi. The cool thing about that is, tori can apply this kuzushi model to uke on every step no matter how uke is moving no matter the size or strength difference. This is the true "happo no kuzushi" in the sense of "off balance in all directions."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Martial prejudice

Chessman over at Formosa Neijia has written some articles recently about a series of run-ins he's had with Chinese martial artists in Taiwan who want to bust his chops for daring to practice this stuff when he's not Chinese himself. They apparently told him that he couldn't possibly have any real skill or understanding because of his nationality. He had to instruct them differently.
This kind of nutty prejudice reminds me of one of my old teachers who used to joke about people who think you can't enjoy good Chinese food unless you eat it using chop sticks.
Tonight I was surfing and came across this quote. Says it all...
As for those people who say that a round-eye has no real right to even be teaching a classical Japanese martial art, much less changing or eliminating anything (either cultural or technical) pertaining to it, I would respond that, "When the Japanese stop teaching, and changing, American baseball, I will stop teaching bujutsu. (Fredrick Lovret, Budô Shinbun)

Great posture exercise - climbing stairs

Ok, when you think about posture exercises you might think about Army recruits trying to stand straight up while a drill sergeant screams in their face, "Suck that gut in. Pull those shoulders back." Well, the aikido and judo ideal of good posture begins with relaxed, mobile, and upright. While the old drill sergeant might have gotten upright, he sure missed the relaxed part.

The folks that probably know the most of anyone in the world about functional posture are the Alexander Technique folks and the Feldenkrais Method folks. I've written before on the crossover between aikido, judo, Alexander, and Feldenkrais principles, including a recent article on a neat Alexander trick for fixing neck posture. Feldenkrais has some similar exercises which involve repeatedly sitting and standing from a chair to reprogram the neck muscles. Here's something that, so far as I know, is of my own invention... Walking up and down stairs to fix neck posture.

Try this. Get a flight of steps and walk up and down sliding your hand on the rail for balance. Repeat the flight of steps several times. First this will help your leg and cardiovascular strength if you do it regularly, and having better wind means you don't have to use shoulder and neck musckes as accessory breathers. So they can relax and control your neck posture more efficiently.

Second, keep breathing as you walk the stairs. If you are not used to walking stairs you might, without thinking, hold your breath and drag yourself up by the handrail. If one flight of stairs wears you out and leaves you breathless, look to see if you're doing this.

Third, and this is the really neat part, try the Alexander trick I previously posted while walking the stairs. Concentrate on moving however you have to in order to get your nose forward and upward. As you descend the stairs, imagine your face lifting forward and up, so that your neck gets longer and straighter and more upright as your body descends. As you climb up the steps, imagine leading with your face. Imagine someone gently holding your chin and the back of your head and giving you a little lift as you ascend. Notice that getting your nose and face up and forward releases tension in your shoulders (because you can't raise your face if your levators scapulae are in contraction) and frees your breathing (because your shoulder muscles are hooked to your rib cage).

How does kuzushi REALLY work?

So, we've been discussing how kuzushi (unbalancing) works in general and in the context of aikido and judo especially. In a desperate attempt to get more commentary on these blog posts (HINT) I put up a PollDaddy poll so y'all could tell me how you think it works. Well, with a sample size of 10, 80% said that uke is always unbalanced, 50% followed that up by saying that tori has to learn to recognize and use uke's perpetual unbalance and another 30% said that tori has to actually work to keep from putting uke back on balance. Only 20% said that they thought tori had to do a specific thing to uke to get them off balanced.
Interesting results. I would have bet that more folks would have answered, "Tori has to do something to get uke offbalance." I mean, come on. Look at the Tomiki system - it teaches the shichihon no kuzushi (7 forms of offbalance). The Kodokan guys outline happo no kuzushi (8 forms of offbalance).  These are pretty bright guys explicitly telling us, "Do this to get uke offbalance - then throw."
Well, the correct answer to the poll is... (drumroll, please), "Yes." Or maybe, "mu." All of these responses are different facets of kuzushi. Uke is a two-legged, moving thing, so of course he is inherently unstable. But we are wired to be very good at compensating for that unbalance to avoid falling, so tori typically hs to do something to accentuate the offbalance or to make it happen in a specific way at a particular time so it is usable. Tori also has to watch out for uke trying to use him as a crutch to regain balance. So, all the answers are partially right. Look back at yesterday's shomenate example. If you follow along with the sequence of events in that technique, I said that the explicit, technical execution of proper kuzushi was secondary to the evasion and the actual execution of the technique.
Now hold on! Before y'all get to screaming 'heretic,' let me finish. I agree that kuzushi is crucial to a good technique. You can't do a throw unless a condition of unbalance exists beforehand. That must mean... You guessed it! If tori can do shomenate without first doing a kuzushi that must mean a state of unbalance already existed - without tori doing it. Now, I also said in the previous post that tori could often make the kuzushi better, or use it to effect a better throw if tori does something to create a specific offbalance before the throw.
So, you're all right. Sorta. I promise the next poll won't be a trick question!
Here's y'all a decent basic reference video on how to do shomenate.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Gross motor skills and Shomenate

A while back I wrote about the importance of building your self defense system out of gross motor skills rather than fine motor skills. Under stress, we lose fine motor coordination to some degree. This is somewhat modifiable through training, but it still happens. I thought I’d pick up on that thread today using shomenate as a concrete example.
I like to think about shomenate as a sort of hierarchy of performance goals. The following is an ordered list of the things you want to happen in shomenate. The list is ordered from most important to least important and it is also ordered from gross motor skill to fine motor skill.
  • Evade to the inside of the attack and get your hands up between you and uke.
  • Push uke’s face straight backward to get him backing away from you.
  • If you can get your feet lined up same-hand-same-foot as you push him, that is good.
  • If you have the presence of mind, bump his attacking arm just as his lead foot comes down. Bump it in the direction of his stance line.
  • If you have the presence of mind, you want the face push to happen right as his second foot comes down.
This is not everything there is to shomenate, but it is enough of the form to make my point. Your main, overriding desire in shomenate should be to evade to the inside and push the face to get uke backing up. During the execution of that gross motor goal there are points that, if you have the slack and the presence of mind, you can improve the mechanical advantage by adding in an element of finesse. Shomenate will often work quite well even if you are only able to do the first one or two of these performance goals But you can potentially turn shomenate into magic (e.g. uke flying eight feet backwards through the air) if you can hit a few of the finesse elements.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Bride of Frankenstein

Oops, I discovered that the picture was broken on Attack of the Living Dead (one of my most popular posts). I've now fixed it and I've added an extra pic to show the next step in the Franken-gaeshi technique! Check it out.
I've also replaced the broken video at Totally Awesome Martial Arts Action with two new videos of some of what I consider to be shaky martial arts (from what little I have seen of them) - Systema and Hikuta.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Braves Manager

And while we're on the topic of Self-defense and conflict in Mississippi...

How does kuzushi work?

Kuzushi means unbalancing in Japanese. It is pretty much the fundamental principle of aikido and judo, that in order to successfully apply a technique, the opponent must be in a state of unbalance. Y'all tell me...

Army aikido

Interesting article I dredged out of Google News about self defense in Mississippi. Apparently about a month ago they were training a group of Virginia National Guardsmen at Camp Shelby just a little ways east of here. And what's more, they were training in a subset of aikido. Check out the video on the news site or check out the rest of this series of news stories.

Bound for Baghdad: Hand-to-Hand Combat

May 22, 2007

Reported by Matt Talhelm

Valley guardsmen and women are preparing for a tour of duty in Iraq. Before they go, they have to be trained up in Mississippi. NBC29's Matt Talhelm is at Camp Shelby with them.

A warm-up, wake-up with a 6:30 a.m. alarm clock calling out commands. "Never too early to learn training!" said First Lieutenant Mike Taylor.

It's hard not to stand at attention and listen to orders from military police Staff Sergeant Steve Knox. "They're going to get 4 hours!" he says.

His arms are his only weapons in this new warrior tasks and battle drills class. "There's five phases of akito--wrist grabs, wrist holds, how to get out of a bear hug, how to get out of a full nelson," listed Knox.

Staff Sergeant Knox calls that his "toolbox" of techniques--taking guns, knives and grenades out of the fight. "We can't just go in blasting everything. So we have to use subtle things...non-lethal weapons, unarmed self-defense," insisted Knox.

The U.S. Army surveyed soldiers returning from Iraq and one in five said they went hand-to-hand with Iraqi insurgents on the streets. "They're going to get the best that we can provide for them," assured Knox about training the soldiers for hand-to-hand combat.

Sergeant First Class Daniel Carvajal sharpened his street skills. "The pressure points make you move...they will make you move," he said. Back in Virginia, he's a cop and just like every suspect he puts in cuffs is different each enemy changes the fight.

"It is tough!" Carvajal said. "Each one's different. Each one's a different situation you come into." They can go for the jugular, the c-clamp or one of the other 12 pressure points approved in army combat. But a different muscle tops the training list for these fighters.

"You can think your way out of anything. And their best weapon is going to be their mind," revealed Knox. "They can come back and win the fight. Huah!"

Sunday, June 03, 2007

NFL Sumo

Interestingly enough, uchimata is statistically the single most successful throw in national, international, and olympic level judo (where did I read that stat? I remember the content longer than the source). This sumotori throws uchimata for the second fall.

Happo no kuzushi

There is this classic demonstration of offbalance in Judo called Happo no Kuzushi (8 forms of unbalancing). The way it works is this. You get an uke who agrees to stand still and you push and pull him into various positions of unbalance. First you pull him forward onto his toes. Then you push him back onto his heels. then tilt him left, then right, and into each corner. Most instructors pay lip service to the happo no kuzushi and the students never see it again. Really, after seeing it once or twice and doing it once or twice there's not much to it. The main problem is uke standing still. That is totally unreal and abstract form. Uke always moves.
The theory is that you can learn the offbalances on a static partner then hope to catch someone unsuspecting in randori so that they stand still long enough to do one. That almost never works and it takes forever for people to feel comfortable doing throws in randori that way.
Here are three modifications that we're playing with to turn happo into an honestly useful piece of kihon, worthy of at least a little bit of time in each class.
  • First, let uke move. Take your standard grip in shizentai. Apply one of the pulls or pushes to uke, who allows tori to move them slowly to the point of no return. This is the point whhere uke has to either step or fall. At this point, uke collapses one leg (whichever feels right), shifts, and turns it back on right under his hips. This way, uke is learning to shift using tsugiashi in response to an impetus but without having to predict how tori will apply force and leading tori.
  • Second, tori moves with uke. As uke responds to the push or pull, tori matches his step using tsugiashi. Tori is learning to synchronize with uke and move with uke's force. Tori should make his foot land at the same time as uke's foot.
  • Third, at the instant the feet hit the ground, tori applies a very light push or pull precisely parallel to uke's feet or perpendicular to his feet. This is the kuzushi that we're really exploring in this exercise - the perpendicular and parallel offbalances that happen right as uke's foot hits the ground.
All the throws in Judo can be done with these two offbalances (perpendicular and parallel) and it is better by far to learn to apply these two offbalances with appropriate timing to a moving opponent than to learn eight offbalances on a mannequin.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Falling leaves ukemi

This guy has seriously GOOD body coordination. We don't teach ukemi exactly like this, but these are good drills with a stepwise progression to teach a few of the most important falls. If you'd like to see a few of my hints for developing this kind of skill, check out this post.

Promote Three meme

Ok, there are these meme-things going around the blogopshere. Typically you have to tell 100 secrets about yourself or answer several interview questions about yourself or some such. I'm not into that and have avoided these memes up till now. I figured if I wanted to see a good meme floating around, I'd start it. So here it is - the Promote Three Meme - and here's how it works:
1) If someone tags you with this meme you'll say so and provide a link back to their blog in your post. Also provide a link back to this post, as the origin of the meme.
2) Look through the Martial Arts Toplist and find three blogs that are lower-ranked than your own. For these three blogs, you will post links and a short reason you think each blog is especially deserving of honors. Why you think they deserve more traffic than they are getting.
3) Send the owners of the three blogs a note telling them why you like their blog and that they've been honored with the Promote Three meme.
4) You may repeat this as many times as often as you think is necessary, with the same blogs or different ones. You may tag anyone in the Martial Arts Toplist, so long as they have several blogs ranked below them.
Here's my initial example:
I think the following blogs deserve honors, traffic, and link-love greater than they are getting:
Weakness with a Twist - for interesting content related to Chinese martial arts and partcularly for his interesting videoblog debates with the Black Taoist.
Martial Views - for the consistent ability to write reasoned, timely, topical essays, each of which generates an immense amount of commentary from his readers.
Black Belt Mama - for sheer variety and creativity in her content.

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Everybody pretty much knows you have to have some offbalance before you can do a throw. The Kodokan brainiacs broke it down into eight forms of balance breaking (happo no kuzushi). They basically theorized that it is possible to throw someone's balance out of whack forward, backward, left, right, or in any diagonal.
For simplicity, I break it down into two (maybe I chould call it niho no kuzushi???) - perpendicular and parallel. These correspond to the forward-backward direction (perpendicular to the feet) in the chart below and the direct sideward direction (parallel with the feet) in the chart. Big problem with learning the throws by pushing a static, cooperative uke into offbalance then throwing him is that uke is never static nor cooperative in randori. Bugger always steps somewhere to recover his balance. Well, it turns out that there is a magic moment, when these parallel and perendicular offbalances work best, that is when the moving foot touches the ground. In the instant that the foot hits the ground, a puh or pull in one of these two axes will upset the uke's balance, and will also, as a side effect, tend to slow him down for a moment.
So, in summary, pay attention to the moment that uke's moving foot touches the ground and during that instant, give him a little push or pull (almost just a bump or touch) directly parallel or perpendicular to the line of his feet. See doesn't he freeze for a moment as his body tries to compensate for that offbalance.
There's more to come on the subject of kuzushi. Specifically the classic exercise, happo no kuzushi, and some slight modifications to improve it as a teaching tool.

Surprise Chop

Today we had a surprise chop. Chops is summering in Baton Rouge and plans to make the trip to Magnolia on Saturdays for a while. We just thought he'd heard about the blackberries and tomatoes starting to make and was showing up two weeks early to the Aiki Buddies Gathering.
Before class we worked some jodo because I rarely get to stick-whack real people. We worked on the sword traps and on hikiotoshi. Chops verified some of the direction I've been going with my jodo based on a recent trip he took to see Henry.
In aiki, we worked tegatana and hanasu with the brown belts (Andy and Chops) rotating between the white belts (mytchi and Richard). We chained our way through chain #5, working on kaiten nage, wakigatame, and hikitaoshi. At the end we worked shomenate as a form of aiki brush-off. Richard and Mytchi had to leave early, so the brown belts worked on some grab-and-go knife randori and some knife nijusan with uke specifically instructed to stay centered on tori and keep cutting no matter what. Shomenate, gyakugamaeate, and aigamaeate were the most effective things we saw today.
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